“Standing on the fringes on life.”
Printed on the back cover of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, these six words perfectly some up the book’s target audience: outsiders struggling to somehow fit in. Since its publication by the dubious imprint of MTV Books way back in February of 1999, Stephen Chbosky’s honest and funny look at teenage alienation has been discovered and cherished by the type of people who, like the characters in the work, spent their high school years obsessing over mix tapes and The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
So when word spread that Chbosky was going to adapt his book for the big screen, it caused much trepidation amongst these fans. Which actors would portray the three main characters? What parts of the novel would be left on the cutting room floor? How could the book’s epistolary nature translate for film properly? Chbosky’s abilities were also called into doubt, as his Hollywood experience was limited to his largely unseen indie film The Four Corners of Nowhere, working on the cult series Jericho and writing the screenplay for the film version of Broadway’s Rent.
Fortunately, these fears all proved to be for naught as the film version of The Perks of Being a Wallflower is something of a cinematic miracle in that it manages to please the hardcore fans and newbies alike.
The film chronicles the freshman year of Charlie (Logan Lerman), a troubled teen whose only friend has recently committed suicide. Writing letters to an unknown stranger, he explains how his world is changed after he meets gay classmate Patrick (Ezra Miller) and his beautiful step-sister, the ethereal Sam (Emma Watson).
As these new partners in crime introduce Charlie to rites-of-passage ranging from doing the Time Warp to pot brownies and first love, his emotional problems and lack of social skills begin to reveal a dark secret from his past that provides the explanation for his erratic behavior. By the time the final credits roll, these three damaged characters have helped each other find redemption.
While some readers may be upset to see that Charlie’s friendship with teacher/mentor Bill (Paul Rudd) and a touching subplot featuring his sister Candace (Nina Dobrev are almost entirely jettisoned here, their exclusions are more than made up for by the affecting performances by the three leads. Less passive than he was in the book, Lerman’s portrayal of Charlie could have easily devolved into that of an emo cliché. Instead, he plays him as a sensitive kid who is unable to tune out the sadness that he sees all around him.
Although Ezra Miller’s Patrick sometimes teeters on the verge of becoming caricature, his ability to instantly move from flamboyance to pathos gives the film its most fascinating performance. As for Emma Watson, she proves that she has effortlessly made the leap from child star to adult actress by infusing Sam the type of haunted world-weariness Hermione was never allowed to exhibit.
Ultimately, where The Perks of Being a Wallflower really succeeds is by transporting viewers back to a time in their own lives when a song or a nighttime drive is all they need to get through the day. Despite your age, this movie will remind you that adolescent angst is temporary but the joys of growing up are infinite.